The Telecommunications Act of 1996, which became law on February 8, 1996, brought about fundamental changes in the licensing of ship radio stations. This on-line version of WTB Fact Sheet #14, "SHIP RADIO STATIONS," contains information on radios that may be used aboard a ship, which ship radio stations must be licensed by the FCC, and how to use your marine VHF radio.
Smaller ships used for recreation (e.g., sailing, diving, fishing, water skiing) are not required to have radio stations installed but they may be so equipped by choice. These ships are known as "voluntary ships" because they are not required by treaty or statute to carry a radio.
Ship stations may communicate with other ship stations or coast stations primarily for safety, and secondarily for navigation and operational efficiency. The FCC regulates marine communications in cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard, which monitors marine distress frequencies continuously to protect life and property. All users of marine radio are responsible for observing both FCC and Coast Guard requirements.
The marine radio equipment listed below may be used aboard a ship. If your ship must be licensed, all equipment is authorized under a single ship radio station license.
VHF Radiotelephone (156-162 MHz) - Used for voice communications with other ships and coast stations over short distances.
Radar - Used for navigating, direction-finding, locating positions, and ship traffic control.
EPIRB - Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons, or EPIRBs, are used when a ship is in distress, to emit a radio signal marking the ship's location. Extreme care must be taken to prevent inadvertent activation and batteries should be replaced prior to expiration date.
Single sideband Radiotelephone (2-27.5 MHz) - Used to communicate over medium and long distances (hundreds, sometime thousands of nautical miles).
Satellite Radio - Used to communicate by means of voice, data or direct printing via satellites.
Radiotelegraph - Used to communicate by means of Morse code facsimile or narrow-band direct-printing.
Survival Craft Radio - Used for survival purposes only from lifeboats and rafts.
On Board Radio - These are low-powered radios used for internal voice communications on board a ship or for authorized short range communications directly associated with ship operations.
In addition, ships may use GPS or LORAN receivers, depth finders, citizens band (CB) radios, or amateur radios (an amateur license from the FCC is required).
WHO NEEDS A SHIP STATION LICENSE?
You do not need a license to operate a marine VHF radio, radar, or EPIRBs aboard voluntary ships operating domestically. The terms "voluntary" and "domestic" are defined below. Although a license is no longer required for these ships, you may still obtain a license (and call sign) by following the procedures outlined in Section IV of this Fact Sheet and writing "VOLUNTARY SHIP" in large letters across the top of the application form.
WHICH SHIPS ARE VOLUNTARY?
The term "voluntary ships" refers to ships that are not required by law to carry a radio. The following types of ships ARE NOT voluntary:
WHAT IS DOMESTIC OPERATION?
Ships operating domestically do not travel to foreign ports or transmit radio communications to foreign stations. Sailing in international waters is permitted, so long as the previous conditions are met. If you travel to a foreign port (e.g., Canada, Mexico, Bahamas, British Virgin Islands) a license is required. Additionally, if you travel to a foreign port, you are required to have an operator permit as described in Section III of this Fact Sheet.
WHAT RADIO EQUIPMENT MAY I USE?
You do not need a license to use marine VHF radios, any type of EPIRB, any type of radar, GPS or LORAN receivers, depth finders, CB radio, or amateur radio (an amateur license is required). Ships that use MF/HF single side-band radio, satellite communications, or telegraphy must continue to be licensed by the FCC.
WHAT IF I HAVE A MARINE RADIO WITH DIGITAL SELECTIVE CALLING (DSC) CAPABILITY?
You must obtain a nine-digit maritime mobile service identity (MMSI) and have it programmed into the unit before you transmit. Prior to obtaining an MMSI, you will be asked to provide certain information about your ship. It is important that you obtain an MMSI because the U.S. Coast Guard uses this information to help speed search and rescue operations.
You may obtain an MMSI by filing FCC Form 506 with the FCC. The FCC is presently examining alternative ways to assign MMSI's (e.g., through private sector organizations). Before applying for an MMSI, you should contact the FCC at (800) 322-1117 to find out the current procedure.
SHOULD I RENEW MY LICENSE?
If you operate a marine VHF radio, radar, or EPIRBs aboard a voluntary ship operating domestically, you are not required to apply for a new license or renew your current license. Although a license is no longer required for these ships, you may still renew your license and retain your call sign by following the procedures outlined in Section IV of this Fact Sheet and writing "VOLUNTARY SHIP RENEWAL" in large letters across the top of the application form.
SHOULD I RETURN MY LICENSE TO THE FCC FOR A FEE REFUND?
If your license was issued prior to July 18, 1994, you paid a non-refundable $35 application fee and are not eligible for a refund. If you applied for a license after that date, however, you paid a regulatory fee in addition to the non-refundable application fee and may be eligible for a refund. Follow the instructions below to obtain your refund.
(1) You paid $115 for a license between July 18, 1994, and February 7, 1995. You paid a $45 application fee and a $70 regulatory fee ($7 per year, 10 year license) and are entitled to a $56 refund ($7 per year for 8 unexpired years of your license). Submit your station license with "REFUND" written across the top to Federal Communications Commission, SHIP REFUND, 1270 Fairfield Road, Gettysburg, PA 17325-7245. A $56 refund check will be sent to you by mail.
(2) You paid $115 for a license between February 8, 1995, and September 17, 1995. You paid a $45 application fee and a $70 regulatory fee ($7 per year, 10 year license) and are entitled to a $63 refund ($7 per year for 9 unexpired years of your license). Submit your station license with "REFUND" written across the top to Federal Communications Commission, SHIP REFUND, 1270 Fairfield Road, Gettysburg, PA 17325-7245. A $63 refund check will be sent to you by mail.
(3) You paid $75 for a license after September 17, 1995, and received a license in the mail. You paid a $45 application fee and a $30 regulatory fee ($3 per year, 10 year license) and are entitled to a $27 refund ($3 per year for 9 unexpired years of your license). Submit your station license with "REFUND" written across the top to Federal Communications Commission, SHIP REFUND, 1270 Fairfield Road, Gettysburg, PA 17325-7245. A $27 refund check will be sent to you by mail.
(4) You paid $75 for a license after September 17, 1995, and did not receive a license in the mail. You will receive a $75 refund check in the mail. There is no need to call or write the FCC to get your refund -- it will be sent automatically. Keep in mind that the FCC must process nearly 16,000 refunds in this category alone. Nonetheless, you should receive your refund between January and March 1997.
WHAT OPERATING PROCEDURES SHOULD I FOLLOW?
Even though a station license may no longer be required, you must continue to follow the operating procedures for calling other stations, maintaining a safety watch, and relaying distress messages as specified in the FCC Rules. A summary of these rules for the use of marine VHF radios is included in Section V of this Fact Sheet. You may identify your ship station over the air using your FCC-issued call sign, the state registration number or official number of your ship, or the name of your ship.
WHAT HAPPENS IF THE COAST GUARD BOARDS MY SHIP?
On April 17, 1996, the U.S. Coast Guard suspended enforcement activities concerning FCC Radio Station Licenses carried aboard voluntary ships.
NOTE: A ship radio station license authorizes radio equipment aboard a ship, while the restricted radiotelephone operator permit authorizes a specific person to communicate with foreign stations or use certain radio equipment (e.g., MF/HF single sideband radio or satellite radio).
Obtain FCC Form 506 (see Section VI of this Fact Sheet) and file it with the FCC. The FCC will mail the license to you and it will be valid for ten years. Don't forget to sign and date your application and include any applicable fees, otherwise it may be returned.
HOW DO I OBTAIN A RESTRICTED RADIOTELEPHONE OPERATOR PERMIT?
Obtain FCC Form 753 (see Section VI of this Fact Sheet) and file it with the FCC. You do not need to take a test to obtain this permit. The FCC will mail the permit to you and it will be valid for your lifetime. Don't forget to sign and date your application and include any applicable fees, otherwise it may be returned.
MAY I OPERATE A MARINE RADIO WHILE MY APPLICATIONS ARE BEING PROCESSED?
You may operate your marine radio after you have mailed your application(s) to the FCC so long as you fill out, detach, and retain the temporary operating authority attached to the application form. The temporary operating authority is valid for 90 days after you mail your application to the FCC and should be kept with your station records until you receive your license/permit through the mail.
HOW DO I MAKE CHANGES DURING MY LICENSE TERM?
If you change your mailing address, legal name, ship name, ship official number, or state registration number you must notify the FCC in writing. There is no fee required. No action is required when you add or replace a transmitter that operates in the same frequency band.
Send your written notice of change to:
Federal Communications Commission
1270 Fairfield Road
Gettysburg, PA 17325-7245.
HOW DO I RENEW MY LICENSE?
The FCC will send you a computer generated renewal application, FCC Form 405B, approximately 120 days prior to the expiration date of your license. If you do not receive this form within 30 days of the expiration date of your license, you should obtain FCC Form 506 and use it to renew your license.
If you send an application for renewal before your current license expires, you may continue to operate until the FCC acts on your application. You do not need a temporary permit but you should keep a copy of the renewal application you send the FCC.
You must stop transmitting as soon as your license expires, unless you have already sent your renewal application to the FCC.
WHAT DO I DO IF MY LICENSE HAS EXPIRED?
If your station license has expired, you must complete FCC Form 506 for a NEW station license. There is NO grace period. You may use the temporary operating authority (FCC Form 506A) to operate your marine radio while your application is being processed.
WHAT DO I DO IF I LOSE MY LICENSE OR PERMIT?
If you lose your license, you must request a duplicate in writing. For a duplicate SHIP STATION LICENSE, you must include your name, ship name, and station call sign and a completed Remittance Advice, FCC Form 159. There are no provisions for issuing duplicate restricted radiotelephone operator permits. If you need to replace a lost permit, you must apply for a new one using FCC Form 753. There are fees required for requesting a duplicate license or a new permit.
WHAT MUST I DO IF I SELL MY SHIP?
If you sell your ship, you must send your SHIP STATION LICENSE, marked "cancel" to:
Federal Communications Commission
1270 Fairfield Road
Gettysburg, PA 17325-7245.
You cannot transfer your SHIP STATION LICENSE to another person or ship. The new owner cannot modify your license, but must apply for a NEW license.
If you have a RESTRICTED RADIOTELEPHONE OPERATOR PERMIT, you should retain it for future use since it is authorized for your lifetime.
HOW DO I LICENSE A FLEET OF SHIPS?
Under certain conditions, two or more ships having a common owner or operator may be issued a fleet license for operation of all ship radio stations aboard the ships in the fleet. This allows an applicant to file a single FCC Form 506 for multiple ships. The total fee due for the fleet license, however, is the fee due for a single license multiplied by the total number of ships in the fleet. You must retain a copy of the fleet license with the station records on each ship.
MAY I USE MY RADIO ON MORE THAN ONE SHIP?
If you can provide justification for the use of a single transmitter from two or more ships, a portable ship station license may be issued. This could authorize various types of marine radio equipment to be carried from ship to ship. MAY I USE MY HAND-HELD MARINE VHF RADIO ON LAND? You must have a special license, called a marine utility station license, to operate a hand-held marine radio from land -- a ship station license IS NOT sufficient. You may apply for this license by filing FCC Form 503 with the FCC. To be eligible for a marine utility station license, you must generally provide some sort of service to ships or have control over a bridge or waterway. Additionally, you must show a need to communicate using hand-held portable equipment from both a ship and from coast locations. Each unit must be capable of operation while being hand-carried by an individual. The station operates under the rules applicable to ship stations when the unit is aboard a ship, and under the rules applicable to private coast stations when the unit is on land.
The power output of your radio must not be more than 25 watts. You must also be able to lower the power of your radio to one watt or less. Your radio must be able to transmit on 156.8 MHz (Channel 16), 156.3 MHz (Channel 6) and at least one other channel. Your radio must be type accepted by the FCC. You can tell a type accepted radio by the FCC ID label on the radio. You may look at a list of type accepted radios at any FCC field office or at FCC headquarters.
MAY I INSTALL AND SERVICE MY MARINE VHF RADIO BY MYSELF?
You may install your radio in your ship by yourself. All internal repairs or adjustments to your radio must be made by or under the supervision of an FCC-licensed technician holding at least a General Radiotelephone Operator License. It is recommended that the radio be inspected by the service person when installed.
WHAT MARINE VHF CHANNELS MAY I USE?
The marine VHF channels are divided into operational categories, based on the types of messages that are appropriate for each channel, and are available for the shared use of all boaters. You must choose a channel which is available for the type of message you want to send. Except where noted, channels are available for both ship-to-ship and ship-to-coast messages.
Click here to view a list of the marine VHF channels and their designated uses. The channels listed in the table are the only channels you may use, even if your radio has more channels available.
HOW DO I MAKE A CALL?
Maintain your watch. Whenever your radio is turned on (and not being used for messages), keep it tuned to Channel 16.
Power. Try one watt first if the station being called is within a few miles. If there is no answer, you may switch to higher power.
Calling coast stations. Call a coast station on its assigned channel. You may use Channel 16 when you do not know the assigned channel.
Calling other ships. Call other ships on Channel 16. You may call on ship-to-ship channels when you know that the ship is listening on both a ship-to-ship channel and Channel 16. NOTE: To do this the ship has to have two separate receivers.
Limits on calling. You must not call the same station for more than 30 seconds at a time. If you do not get a reply, wait at least two minutes before calling again. After three calling periods, wait at least 15 minutes before calling again.
Change channels. After contacting another station on Channel 16, change immediately to a channel which is available for the type of message you want to send.
Station identification. Identify in English, your station by your FCC call sign or ship name at the beginning and end of each message.
WHAT COMMUNICATIONS ARE PROHIBITED?
YOU MUST NOT TRANSMIT --
DO I HAVE TO KEEP A RADIO LOG?
You do not have to keep a radio log.
DO I NEED A COPY OF THE RULES?
Voluntary boaters are not required to keep a copy of the FCC's rules. Regardless of whether or not you have a copy of the rules, however, you are responsible for compliance. This Fact Sheet is furnished for your information and guidance. If you would like a copy of the rules, refer to Section VI of this Fact Sheet.
DO I HAVE TO MAKE MY SHIP STATION AVAILABLE FOR INSPECTION?
Your station and your station records (station license and operator license or permit, if required) must be shown when requested by an authorized FCC representative.
WHAT HAPPENS IF I VIOLATE THE RULES? If it appears to the FCC that you have violated the Communications Act or the rules, the FCC may send you a written notice of the apparent violation. If the violation notice covers a technical radio standard, you must stop using your radio. You must not use your radio until you have had all the technical problems fixed. You may have to report the results of those tests to the FCC. Test results must be signed by the commercial operator who conducted the test. If the FCC finds that you have willfully or repeatedly violated the Communications Act or the rules, your authorization to use the radio may be revoked and you may be fined or sent to prison.
HOW DO I CALL ANOTHER SHIP?
HOW DO I PLACE A CALL THROUGH A PUBLIC COAST STATION?
Boaters may make and receive telephone calls to and from any telephone with access to the nationwide telephone network by utilizing the services of Public Coast Stations. Calls can be made to other ships or telephones on land, sea, and in the air.
IMPORTANT: A ship owner who plans on using these services should register with the operator of the Public Coast Station through which he/she plans to operate. If a person is not registered with the Public Coast Station, then billing information must be given to the Coast Station operator each time a call is made, which results in additional time and effort.
MAKING SHIP TO SHORE CALLS
To receive public Coast Station calls on VHF-FM frequencies, the receiver must be in operation on the proper channel. Coast stations will call on 156.8 MHz (channel 16) unless you have Ringer Service (which requires a second receiver).
SHIP TO SHIP CALLS
Contacts between ships are normally made directly but you can go through your coast station using the same procedure as ship to shore calls.
PLACING SHORE TO SHIP CALLS
Dial "0" for operator and ask for the "marine operator." It is necessary to know the name of the ship being called (not the owner's name) and its approximate location so the marine operator will know which coast station to place the call through. Other useful information is the channel generally monitored for receiving calls, the ringer number (if applicable) and the Coast Station through which calls can generally be received.
WHAT ARE THE MARINE EMERGENCY SIGNALS?
The three spoken international emergency signals are:
(1) MAYDAY -- The distress signal MAYDAY is used to indicate that a station is threatened by grave and imminent danger and requests immediate assistance
(2) PAN PAN -- The urgency signal PAN PAN is used when the safety of the ship or person is in jeopardy.
(3) SECURITY -- The safety signal SECURITY is used for messages about the safety of navigation or important weather warnings.
When using an international emergency signal, the appropriate signal is to be spoken three times prior to the message.
You must give any message beginning with one of these signals priority over routine messages.
WHAT IS THE MARINE DISTRESS PROCEDURE?
Speak slowly -- clearly -- calmly.
1. Make sure your radio is on.
2. Select VHF Channel 16 (156.8 MHz).
3. Press microphone button and say: "MAYDAY --MAYDAY-- MAYDAY."
4. Say "THIS IS [your ship name or call sign repeated 3 times]."
5. Say "MAYDAY [your ship name]."
6. Tell where you are: (what navigational aids or landmarks are near).
7. State the nature of your distress
8. Give number of persons aboard and conditions of any injured.
9. Estimate present seaworthiness of your ship.
10. Briefly describe your ship (meters, type, color, hull).
11. Say: I will be listening on Channel 16."
12. End message by saying "THIS IS [your ship name or call sign] OVER."
13. Release microphone button and listen. Someone should answer. If not, repeat call, beginning at Item 3 above.
All details concerning radio service eligibility, application procedures, operating requirements, and equipment standards can be found in the FCC Rules. Voluntary ships are not required to carry a copy of the rules.
Maritime Service Rules 47 C.F.R. Part 80
Operator License Rules 47 C.F.R. Part 13
The rules are available for a fee from the Government Printing Office at (202) 512-1803.
Voluntary ship operators who would like an abbreviated version of the rules, including all requirements for voluntary ships, may want to obtain a copy of the Radio Technical Commission for Maritime Service's publication titled "Marine Radiotelephone Users Handbook". The latest edition may be ordered from RTCM, P.0. Box 19087, Washington DC 20036, or by calling (202) 639-4006.
For further information contact the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau at 1 (800) 322-1117 or E-Mail at email@example.com.